Posted on May 14, 2014
1. I know that you've played in other bands in hongdae and do art things all around Korea. Could you make a brief presentation of your musical and artistic journey in korea?
I used to play bass in a band called Animal Dads. We kind of sounded like Superchunk. That started in '07 and I quit the band in 2009 or 2010. We had a reunion show at powwow last winter and that was fun. You can see a song from it at the AWEH site:
As an artist I do mostly street art these days. I'm part of an art collective called Seoul Urban Art Project. I want to work in galleries more but these days I'm busy with SUP and music and other things. I like to take photos too but I haven't been doing it much lately. Maybe instagram ruined it for me? And I studied creative writing in college. I haven't written a story in ages though. It's always in the back of my mind, but I figure I'm writing songs for now and that's creative. One day I'll be old and won't want to play rock and roll. Then maybe I'll write stories again. But really I think it's all different parts of the same puzzle. Your taste should translate over to other mediums. I don't understand people who are particular about music but not visual art, or vice versa.
2. This is the kind of question that i always want to ask every foreigner I meet in Korea: What made you to come to Korea? And what made you stay in Korea for so long?
Haha... Are you suspicious??? I had graduated from the University of Kansas and was just working in Lawrence. It's a college town and I felt like I was in a rut. Everyone was younger and I felt like the old guy at the party. Korea seemed like a nice fit. Convenient, stable, pays fairly well. I didn't really know anything except the flag. But now I'm happy I moved here. Japan is nice, but it's too expensive and seems saturated. I couldn't live the way I do in Tokyo. At the time China seemed to crazy. Now I think it's great fun, but I've got too many roots here to move.
Why have I stayed? Well, Seoul is a pretty comfortable place in most respects. Cheap rent. Good public transportation. Plenty to do. Also, for a couple years the American economy was terrible, so moving home didn't seem like an option. By the time it came back, I had a good job and Table People had started up. I was doing stuff with art and I'd started a MA in Education. I figured I should stick around for a while. Started taking my Korean more seriously, although it's still pretty awful.
I've been thinking about getting back to the states, but Seoul changes very fast and every year it gets a little cooler.
3. How does the song writing for Table People work? How do you write your lyrics?
Most of the lyrics just come from something someone says or some anecdote I hear. Sometimes a story develops but it's okay if not. I guess the most important thing is to not censor yourself in the early stages. But later on you have to go back and revise. Sometimes there are one or two lines that are very weak. It's easy to let them stay because no one really pays attention when you play live. But if you record then it's kind of set in stone. Occasionally Ethan is annoyed by a line I sing and I'm too lazy to change it. If he bugs me enough, I change it and it's usually better. But it's really important to read books. I don't read enough but when I do I come up with a few phrases that would fit into songs.
4. Table People's album artwork is notorious. Could you explain the why that is and how the process works? Also how did it work for the cover of Doo Nyeon?
For the first EP we pressed the CDs conventionally but did all the album art by hand on cardboard jackets. I figured we were only pressing 1000, so it wouldn't be that hard to do them ourselves. And handmade art is something you can't download, so I thought it might be another incentive buy our CD. And when we spread our CDs out on a merch table they look really good. It's like a miniature art gallery. Of course before the CD release last year we had a bunch of our friends come up to Maloney's pub in Kyungridan and help us make the first 100 covers. That was a really fun night. A lot of our friends hadn't made any art in ages and had forgotten how much fun it can be. It was a really warm communal vibe. But the secret with the handmade covers is to keep it simple: image, background, text. Anyway people seem to like the handmade covers if they understand the concept but if they just happen upon them I fear they might think we were just lazy or poor. So with Doo Nyeon Les Sales and Table People both agreed that the cases and art would be printed conventionally. It just looks more professional. But we certainly still went DIY with the design. Jieun and Daein came over to my house one day and we just drew a bunch of covers. Finally we settled on this monkey that Daein had drawn. For a background Jimmy used a pattern from an old Korean print book I have. And inside Jieun drew pictures of each band member. So the art process was a real home made thing.
5. Jesus Bed is one of my favorite Table People songs, but I can’t make out the lyrics. What are you talking about in this song? Is this a Velvet Underground style repentance song? Hope I won't have any bad surprise from your answer because, believe me, I believe in God. And why don't you want to play this song live?
I wrote that when I had a hangover. Whenever I get a hangover, I guess my brain doesn't have enough water and so I get kind of loopy and weird ideas surface. The chorus is about Jesus in his 20's, before he had to man up and be a savior. But the verses are about the old testament. I can't help but write about the bible a lot. I'm not Christian but I was that way and always went to Lutheran schools where we read the bible a lot. So that narrative is kind of etched in my brain and still very interesting to me. Why don't we still play it often? It's old. We've played it so many times. And Ethan has to get his slide out. But maybe we'll dust it off for Les Sales sometime.
6. We can find Table People playing in front of Korean audiences in Hongdae and for foreign audiences in Itaewon. What is the major difference between two?
Is it really that segregated??? I don't think there's a wall between the two! ;) Actually we don't play in Itaewon much since Powwow and Ccottddang shut down. But comparing Korean crowds to foreign crowds. Well, I think the biggest difference is the times in the shows. Seems like Koreans like to see an early show. I think in general that makes the crowd more subdued, but they also pay attention more. I'm not entirely sure, but I think maybe they approach more like a performance. They are observing. At a western show, it's more of a party, where there's not a big divide between the band and audience. That's where rock and roll was born, in juke-joints and roadhouses where people were drinking. So those shows tend to be a couple hours later. Personally when I see a show I like to be in the front, drinking a beer, so I guess I prefer the western style. The hardest thing for me to rap my head around is chairs at shows. If I really like the music I have to stand. I remember I saw Sato Yukie and Gopchangchangol at Strange Fruit and everyone was sitting down. Sato Yukie was absolutely amazing, going all over the place, but the crowd were very passive. Everyone clearly enjoyed it, but still seated. I was sitting too of course. I'm not one to stand out in a crowd.
But the best mix of these two styles that I've encountered was the Deerhoof show at BBang. Bbang usually has chairs down but that night the room was full and everyone was standing. I remember being embarrassed a couple times because the Koreans were so rapt with attention, while some of the foreigners were just chatting through the whole song. But whatever. It's a rock and roll show, not a church service. But I remember one foreigner guy in some kind of panda suit got up on stage and stayed up a little too long. They asked him to get off. A Korean fan would never do that. There's too much respect for the performer.
7. I know that you asked Les Sales to make a split album not vice versa. How did you come up with that genius idea? Were there any surprises, good or bad after hanging out with Les Sales?
I just liked seeing you guys play and we had a mutual admiration for each other's music. Ever since we started TP I had the idea to do a split, but I wanted it to be with a Korean band. Les Sales seemed down to party. Any surprises? No surprises, really. The whole process has been pretty smooth. Both bands have fun when we drink beer together. Only time I was surprised was when I found out you bought the same guitar as me. But I like my guitar so I can't blame you, really.
8. You are an English professor at a University. What kind of professor you are? Are you the rock'n'roll professor that i always dreamed about?
I wouldn't say I'm a rock'n'roll professor. I'll talk about music if my students ask, but I don't try to convert them to the church of rock or anything. I don't like it when people try to force music onto me. Anyway, no one wants to take recommendations from someone they think is old. I usually just keep my mouth shut regarding music, but sometimes I can't help but roll my eyes when a student says that green day is punk or doesn't know who the "jagger" in "Moves like Jagger" is. My students don't like the old Korean stuff either, which I think is a lot more fun and subversive than Kpop.
One time a student asked me if I knew who Kurt Cobain was. I just smirked and told her that's like asking her if she knows who Seo Taiji is.
9. I know that being a rock band musician in Korea is very hard. I guess being a foreigner in Korea is also very hard. What is the most difficult thing for you, being both of them?
The hardest thing about being a foreigner in a rock band here is the visa restrictions. We want Table People to reach to Koreans but there's so much bureaucracy to go through to get your music into record stores and onto Naver and Melon. Hardest part of being a foreigner is the language barrier, I suppose. I take a class twice a week but I've got a lot of other things going on, so it's slow going. Many Koreans are hesitant to speak English for fear of misspeaking and being embarrassed so it's hard to make Korean friends unless you speak Korean.
10. What is the meaning of Hongdae indie scene for you?
I don't know. I've always been on the outside of it so I don't feel like I'm really able to comment. I think it's getting better though. When I first came here I didn't really like any of the bands but Juckjuck and Mineri. Now there are plenty of bands I like.
As for Hongdae the neighborhood, it is fine but I wish there were more chances to play in other neighborhoods. I like Mun in Mullae but it's hard to get people to go out there. I just heard the old Powwow space is being turned over into another bar/venue. Hopefully they'll put on good shows and that will work out, because I think Itaewon needs a good venue. I really wish it were practical to go play shows in other cities like Daejeon and Daegu. We're going to Busan later this year and I hope it goes well. Two of my favorite Korean bands (Genius and Say Sue Me) are from Busan, so I hope we can play together.